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Power up Microsoft Teams with add-ons

Squat lift, heavy barbell!

Power up Microsoft Teams with add-ons

The growth in adoption of Microsoft Teams has been meteoric, and Microsoft is adding functionality at a rapid pace. However, there are still many gaps that other companies are filling with some innovative products, much as they have extended the intranet capabilities of SharePoint in the past.

Nimbler than Microsoft, third-party add-ons are addressing some of the current pain-points for Teams:

  1. Embedding intranet functionality
  2. Navigating across information and services
  3. Making it easier to navigate across many Teams
  4. Governance, such as naming conventions and templates

Teams as an intranet

With so many daily active users on Teams, it’s not surprising that intranet owners are keen to defect from the browser and bring an intranet experience into Teams.

The gap that most products fill is that it is hard to publish in any structured way on Teams. You can have an Org-Wide team that all users are conscripted into, but posts are limited to the regular message format or the slightly more visual ‘announcements’ option. You can also add a SharePoint tab in an individual team, but it only shows a single page in isolation.

Some add-on tools give you extra news functionality, such as the ability to schedule posts and have richer page layouts. A few also let you publish simultaneously onto a SharePoint intranet and into a Teams page, saving a copy-and-paste. Oddly, this ability to cross-post has been picked up more by non-SharePoint intranet vendors such as LumApps than those who sell in-a-box SharePoint intranet products.

A good example is Sparrow for Microsoft Teams. It allows you to target news to users based on attributes such as role and location within a single space (more like SharePoint audiences than having to work out audience groups on Teams). It also lets you collate acknowledgements for ‘mandatory read’ items where you need an audit trail.

Microsoft Teams showing several stories with headlines and images.
Sparrow for Microsoft Teams embeds intranet-like news publishing.

Navigating across information and services

One of the downsides of Teams is that navigation across a large organisation can get very complex. Users see a long list of team names, and have to go into each team to see the tabs. When you just want to navigate to a reference page, a megamenu is still a much quicker method of information-seeking.

A second intranet-like feature from third parties is an embedded horizontal menu. This is a route that many SharePoint intranet in-a-box vendors are pursuing, including Beezy, ElevatePoint and IntraActive. One of the more comprehensive options is LiveTiles Everywhere (an updated and more integrated edition of what began as Wizdom PowerPanel). This adds an icon to the left-hand rail of Teams acting like an intranet launcher. It can be used as a way to communicate pages of information, show alerts, and give access to employee services that need to be ubiquitous, rather than buried within the tab of a single team.

Microsoft Teams showing a page layout with several content blocks.
LiveTiles Everywhere embeds menus, including access to services, in a button on the left-hand rail of Teams.

Navigating across Teams

A second angle to the navigation challenge is knowing what teams you belong to and which  teams are available. At first, joining a team adds you to a simple list in the application. But as memberships grow – particularly public teams that you may only visit occasionally – the simple list format becomes limiting.

Basedrum and Kasama are good examples of products that add a dashboard layer to the teams you are a member of.  Some, such as Valo Teamwork go further and give a single view across the range of collaboration spaces on offer in Microsoft 365, such as Groups, Yammer, SharePoint Team Sites and Teams. A nifty feature in Valo is that you can jump straight to a particular tool, such as the Planner board of a Group.

SharePoint (Valo) showing available teams / sites in a care interface,
Valo Teamwork gives a searchable dashboard across Microsoft 365 collaboration spaces.

Similarly, Injio’s innovative ‘Hovva’ console gives a more aggregated view across Teams, To Do, Planner and OneDrive, allowing users to post updates across any of these applications from one place. I do wonder, though, if users will regularly launch from a web interface if they have the Teams desktop application installed.

With many thousands of Teams being a commonplace reality in organisation, finding a Team to join can also be tricky. You can search Teams you are not part of, but that can be hard if you don’t know the exact name. Third-party products step in again to help by categorising and filtering Teams. Powell Teams, for example, adds simple tags that can be filtered by location and department.

Governing Teams growth

With such rapid uptake, it is inevitable that companies will feel growing pains with Teams, not least because Microsoft make it so junk-food easy for any user to create “Tony’s test team” 100 times over. We learned all the lessons with “SharePoint sprawl” but seem destined to repeat them with “Teams tangleweed”. The issue is that your only options are to either allow everyone to create a team, or restrict it to admins only, and that creates a bottleneck.

Next on the podium then, are tools that help administrators wrestle back control. Solutions range from big players like AvePoint MyHub to open-source solutions such as EUM. AvePoint is attractive because it can dynamically populate team membership based on a set of rules such as department or location.

An approval window for a new Teams.
Powell Teams adds approval workflow to new Teams requests.

Powell Teams is a good example from one of the leaders in the SharePoint intranet in-a-box space. It implements a team request workflow and can add consistency through rules for naming conventions. It even lets you pre-configure apps, membership and channels for each template.

I expect this area to undergo rapid development in the next few months. We are seeing a set of partial solutions at the moment coming from multiple angles. I’m sure there will be more comprehensive suites coming out. For example, in pre-release is Orchestry, which is aiming to centralise a template-based approach, with approval workflows, sophisticated naming controls (it will highlight when a proposed Team closely matches an existing one) and an end-user dashboard too.

However, Microsoft is also moving ahead. It has a basic templating solution, though it needs programming to define. Given Teams’ low price, the challenge for vendors is to make a viable margin whilst investing enough to stay ahead of the development pace of Microsoft themselves.

This article was originally published by CMSWire.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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